Bruce Parker

Some Birthday Reflections

Filed By Bruce Parker | June 05, 2008 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: bipolar, birthday, Ph.D.

I don't like my birthday. I have never enjoyed them much and probably never will. My family birthday's when I was younger were never very fun and celebrations and holidays were always hard times for my mother and I. As often as not, we found ourselves alone. So as I have aged I have strived to make as little of an event as possible out of June 5.

I am glad I was born in June, as being a Gemini seems to fit me very well. I have a little Gemini pride.

I usually take the day to reflect on the past year. I pick through the accomplishments and failures, good choices and bad in the hopes of visioning a clearer picture of what I want for my future. Two significant things have happened this year that are worth talking about a little with any readers who are interested.

I finished my first year of my Ph.D. program & I decided to go on mood stabilizing medication for bipolar disorder. If you are in the mood for some personal reflection and birthday introspection read on. If you came here today looking for current events, I am sure that Bil or Alex has something intelligent and engaging to say.

Ph.D.

I made it through the first year of my Ph.D program and emerged with a 4.0 GPA. The curriculum theory program at Louisiana State University is very challenging and grounded in the humanities. I feel like I am learning so much that will be helpful to me in whatever direction my career ends up going.

My reading and writing load has been higher than at any point in my education thus far. While I like writing, I struggle with grammar and basic structure issues. This made the writing load even more difficult to keep up with. Alex can tell you that I don't know a comma from a hole in the ground.

Thankfully one of my professors shared with me that she has many of the same challenges, so I no longer felt dumb about my limitations in this arena. I found a classmate who I help with concepts and theories and she edits my papers for structure and grammar. The arrangement seems to be working out well.

I am assistant editor of the journal of curriculum theorizing and helping plan the annual conference it hosts. This has been a dream of mine for a long time and I am excited to be a part of the work being done around the future of the field. I have done numerous national presentations in my field and am in the middle of a research project about professional development for high school English teachers and transgender/gender variant issues. Finally, I have two articles under consideration for publication in academic journals. I will keep ya'll posted if/when they come out.

I also want to share that I have been hired by the Louisiana State University Office of Multicultural Affairs to head up their safe space program next year. So I will be working with the university on LGBT issues and have a lot of freedom to take the program in new directions. I am excited for the position and think it will be a better fit for me than residence life was this past year.

Bipolar

My 26th year was an amazing one. I felt accomplished and good about where I was on my birthday last year. This year will go down in history as a crazy ass year; the year I lost my shit. The year I came undone.

I expected the sunshine and warm weather to dramatically calm the mood swings that accompany being bipolar. It was a mistaken assumption. Somewhere around the middle of February, I feel into a depression that about a month and a half later became a mixed episode. I had learned that sometimes I just had to weather the storms of my craziness and that eventually I would get better. This time was different; I kept getting worse until it become almost impossible for me to function from day to day.

My attendance in courses slipped to almost nothing, I stopped doing my job or doing any sort of activism and maybe most peculiarly (for those of you who know me) developed a deep social anxiety that made communication with people very difficult. I was anxious about online, phone, or actual communication. Although I am blessed with good friends and support structures, I was too immobilized to reach out for help.

I tried all of the tricks that had worked for me in the past - all to no avail. I watched as the people around me started getting more and more concerned about my well-being and couldn't bring myself to offer any reassurances. I was convinced that maybe I wouldn't bounce back from this one.

I pondered dropping out of my Ph.D. program, leaving my activist commitments with TYFA, leaving the blog and dropping most of my personal relationships. I felt worthless, like my mind would never come back to me and I was a burden to those I love.

I was convinced that this time I would be unable to dig my way out of the hole that my mood had created. I am still not caught up with the work I fell behind on or as sure of myself as I was before the meltdown, but day-by-day I seem to be doing a little better.

I still haven't beaten it totally, but things are starting to look up. I am at least starting to be able to function consistently again.

I had made the conscious decision at nineteen (with the help of a very effective therapist) to go off medication and attempt to manage my moods through other avenues. I tried to use things like diet, exercise, lifestyle management and good decision-making to be okay. If I say so myself, completing my bachelor of arts in cultural and interdisciplinary studies, a masters of science in curriculum and instruction and leading a statewide transgender nonprofit organization through a period of success and growth without medication isn't too bad of a track record.

However, the episode that has stretched since February has me concerned and exploring new options. I am back in talk therapy, taking medication, looking at alternative resources, and learning more about bipolar disorder. A couple things I want to share.

I started on Depakote about two and a half weeks ago and it has torn my stomach up. One day, I had pain that I didn't think I would live through. Many days I have been sick at my stomach and suffered from cramps and other nastiness. Those side effects have started to taper off. I am still sorting out how I feel about having to take a pill twice a day to be okay but I am choosing to consider it a temporary decision that I will reassess on a yearly basis.

I am now looking for herbs that prevent hair loss to try to stave off the baldness that my psychiatrist is claiming to be the most common side effect. All of this drama and I can't tell any difference in my moods yet. I am trying to be patient. I am not willing to lose my life or to become unrecognizable to myself again. I will do whatever I can to prevent another episode like this last one. The last few months have kicked my ass.

The book I am working with is called The Bipolar Workbook. I borrowed it from Bil and never returned it. Sorry Bil! It is a good book and you should get yourself another copy. I am on chapter three and later today will be doing my life chart that traces the ways my moods have shaped my life in the hopes of finding patterns. The activities in it almost feel like magazine quizzes. It isn't too menacing and focuses on getting control of yourself...

Finally, if you are interested in alternative approaches to mental health I recommend that you check out The Icarus Project website. It is a cool community based alternative mental health organization that has lots of resources and offers different perspectives on mental illness than mainstream medicine. Perspectives that people like me need to survive.

I don't know what this year will bring, but I have decided that is the year that I get my shit together emotionally, psychically and mentally. Thanks for not firing me yet Bil. I am proud to be a part of the bilerico family.


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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 5, 2008 10:13 PM

Bruce, you are one of the brave people. Your post is very moving and should be included in a book on bipolar disorder. Each day is a struggle for us all, if we are living, and that is the secret of it.

Thank you for your bravery, endurance and truth.

You have no idea how proud I am of you for getting a 4.0 I know how rough you've had it lately... And all those other honors? Fucking spectacular!

As for bipolar, you know I can sympathize. Can I make a suggestion? You remember me on Depakote. Would you say I was completely sane? LOL It made the ups and downs even more extreme. It also made me gain all that weight! 145 to 170 in a little over a month. I'm on Lamictal now and it's much better. It is made to keep depression at bay and works best for those who deal with depression more often than mania, but based on what you said above, it seems like it might be a match. Best part? No side effects.

But if it makes you feel better, I bought Rogaine today. After all, I was on Depakote for a while too...

Keep the book. Didn't I take the tests in it already though? Just promise that if I need it you'll ship it back. :)

(And if you go manic, call me. I'm always up for a good makeout session! *grins*)